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There can be no question but that the immigration of Englishmen to the counties so frequently named in these pages gave business and agriculture a new impetus in northwestern Iowa. The system whereby the Close brothers cooperated with their tenants and the English settlers, after a little over two years of experimentation, proved remunerative to all concerned, if one may believe the testimony of the St. Paul press in 1881:
Probably the safest, and consequently on the average, the most remunerative kind of agricultural life is a combination of all, or what is called mixed farming. In this, stock raising, wheat culture, and the production of other grains are carried on, either simultaneously or in succession .... A remarkable instance of what can, in this manner, be accomplished, is afforded by the Close brothers; who founded the now famous Close colony, near Lemars in northwestern Iowa. These young Englishmen, of high social standing, began three years ago, the experiment of farming on a large scale. At first controlling but moderate capital, they now have 300,000 acres in their enterprise.
The colony is a sort of community, into which each one who enters must bring at least $2,500 and many do bring several times that amount. This is, of course, private property. There is nothing socialistic in their mutual relations. Their astonishing growth in wealth is one of the wonders of the west. But it is not their social standing or community regulations which constitutes the central interest of this colony. That lies in the fact that they have proved beyond a doubt that modest capital, invested in this region, with industry and intelligence, will in a life-time 'multiply into wealth. The estimates of one who has visited this region may contain minor errors, but their conclusions are doubtless substantially correct. On a capital of $2,500, invested in agriculture the return is equivalent to 54 per cent. at the end of two years. The raising of stock promises a profit, calculated from actual experience, of nearly 100 per cent in three years. Other industries are equally remunerative; and by combining them, it can readily be seen that an active intelligent man can find here the road to competence if not to wealth. Small capitalists understand this; and already a contract has been let for the erection of one hundred houses this season in this colony, with prospect that the number will be doubled. Looking at such instances of unexampled prosperity, it cannot be questioned that . . . . the man who has enough for a start in life, in casting about him for the most promising opening, can scarcely do better than to follow the terse maxim of the Chautauqua sage. For him, it means comfort, health, happiness and wealth. For the great commonwealth which invites him it means internal development, intelligent citizens, and the leading place upon the future roll of States. (161)
How extensively Englishmen of the better class applied themselves to grain farming and stock raising it is difficult to say : in February, 1881, they already owned thousands of well improved acres, had expended over $500,000 in Plymouth County, and many had ample capital in reserve for any necessary requirements. And the Closes had then only begun to bring in "the wealth and brawn of merrie England to this garden spot". Members of the Close colony worked their own farms, instead of letting them to tenants, hiring such labor as they required at an average for the whole year of about $17.50 a month and board. Contract work by the piece was also largely employed, and labor was plentiful.
The interesting feature about the little city of Le Mars that early gained a somewhat exaggerated notoriety throughout the United States and England was that it lay at "the center of a colony of 500 wealthy Englishmen, many of them of noble blood, who live like veritable lords and spend from $500 to $600 a month for their common living expenses." (162) A colony of such generous livers was an advantage to the town, and so it grew rapidly.
Eighteen miles southeast of Le Mars at Quorn, upon the West Fork of the Little Sioux River, lived William B. Close. He and W. Roylance Court, Jr., owned a two thousand acre stock farm, with first class buildings and barns, and two sheep cotes each one hundred feet long. With the help of seven pupils "growing up with the country", they cared for 2000 sheep, graded in from thoroughbred Cotswolds, and a herd of hundreds of Shorthorn grade cattle. The special stock farm of James and Fred Close, also assisted by seven pupils under tuition, consisted of 960 acres, a three-story frame residence, fine stabling for thirty horses, barns, sheds, storage for hay and grain, and so on : their live stock numbered 800 sheep, including 100 thoroughbred Leicesters, bucks and ewes, also 320 head of cattle, and over 200 Berkshire and Poland China hogs. The Closes announced that the returns from their three stock farms were as large as those from wheat, and surer, though slower, although more capital was needed to carry on the business. (163)
The English colonists seem to have gone extensively into sheep raising. In May, 1880, the Hon. Captain Reynolds Moreton bought an improved farm of 960 acres one and one-half miles northwest of Le Mars. Here he quickly put up the finest improvements in the country, such as a two-story seventeen-room house which it was alleged cost $20,000 and two commodious barns with hay mows, besides corncribs, cattle yards, pigpens, and other improvements. He owned herds of cattle and hogs at Dromore Farm numbering two hundred each, and Cotswold, Oxford Down, and Manchester Down sheep, including twenty-five bucks imported from England. (164) Many of the English settlers found a good run for sheep along the bluffs near the larger streams, such as the fine breezy bluffs of the Big Sioux River. In a letter published in England in 1879, William B. Close made a long statement, the first and last paragraphs of which read as follows:
I cannot imagine more perfect runs for sheep than those afforded by the Bluffs near the larger streams and rivers. These bluff lands, too rolling and hilly for the purpose of cultivation, are covered with the same growth of grass described in my last letter, and closely resemble the "downs" in this country, so well suited to sheep. Sheep are remarkably free from diseases, and foot-rot is practically unknown, as the sheep have always dry ground under them. As I have only had sheep one year, I will give the experience of some farmers from Holstein, who came over in '74 with a few hundred pounds each, and are now the most well-to-do of their class in their county, Crawford. Having been brought up as shepherds, and to the business of raising and fattening sheep for the Hamburgh-London market, they have given their attention exclusively to sheep farming. They preferred Cotswolds to other breeds of sheep, as affording both good wool and mutton. Before investing in sheep myself, I investigated their operations, and can vouch that the figures I give below do not overstate their success....
It will thus be seen how very profitable sheep can be made to be with those who know how to tend them. Apart from their fetching a good price for mutton, wool is sold in Chicago at about the same price it realises in England, and yet the cost of keeping sheep is almost nil in Iowa as compared with the cost of keeping them in this country. (165)
Because the winter of 1880-1881 proved to be exceptionally severe and some English 'farmers like the Hon. A. F. Sugden in Arlington Township, Woodbury County, suffered the loss of hundreds of sheep in blizzards and snowdrifts, Captain Moreton declared this first misfortune would teach Englishmen to make ample preparation for feeding and caring for their stock by putting up adequate shelter against storms. Of twelve thousand sheep owned by the colonists, seven thousand produced a clip of wool much better than in States farther east. Despite losses, substantial profit attended the colony's operations during the first year or two, and at least one observer concluded that "every one is or ought to be a richer man for having gone to Le Mars." (166)
In the spring of 1881 the report spread far and wide that nothing but success had crowned the English colony at Le Mars. One writer (167) in England asserted that whenever perils threatened it, such as locusts, drought, storms, or falling prices for wheat, he hoped that the ability and courage which had served the colonists thus far would again avail them. "Iowa", he declared, "relies on the diversity of its products, and already the colonists are devoting their attention to cattle and sheep rather than to wheat." Mixed farming or diversified agriculture, begun with modest capital and continued with industry and intelligence, promised to make the patient farmer wealthy.
As the counties of northwestern Iowa then lay upon the edge of the open range or cattle ranch country, one advantage to stock men was the fact that the "herd law" permitted stock to run at large under the care of herders during the spring and summer. There being no fences, a boy with a pony and dogs could take care of five or six hundred head of cattle or 1500 sheep for five dollars a month. (168) That this region long remained open to such a custom is doubtful since the country improved and filled up rapidly with settlers, fences enclosed cultivated fields, and prairie grass became scarcer for general grazing purposes.
Dairying seems to have appealed to some of the immigrants as may be gathered from a news item:
Mrs. Col. Fenton brought to town fifty pounds of butter, which she sold to Miller & Co., the grocers, for twenty-one cents per pound. The only thing particularly worthy of note about this transaction is the fact that this lot of butter was the first manufactured for sale in the English colony. The butter was of prime quality. (169)
Colonel James Fenton, one of the many Scotchmen of the colony, owned a thousand acre farm in Henry Township, Plymouth County, and early stocked it with thoroughbred imported cattle and well-bred calves and heifers selected from the best Shorthorn and Hereford herds in the State, thus making his herd at Carlton Stock Farm one of the most valuable in the whole countryside. James Birrell Nicholson, another Scotchman, with the aid of his sons conducted a Shorthorn and Poland China farm of five thousand acres. (170)
James B. Warren and G. C. Maclagan (the latter also a Scotchman) purchased a splendid two hundred acre stock farm just west of Le Mars, known as Floyd Farm, which they sold later to the Hon. Ronald Jervis and M. R. Margesson ; and not far away W. McOran Campbell of Tullichewan Castle, Dumbartonshire, Scotland, arrived a little later to look after a famous herd of Polled Angus on a thousand acre farm which he called the Inchinnoch. The Paulton brothers, who lived at or near Orange City for one year, bought a place two and one-half miles east of Le Mars in 1881. Arthur Gee owned Westbourne Farm. Jack Wakefield spent his time raising cattle near Seney. Alfred Currie Colledge and J. H. Preston bought a two hundred and twenty-three acre farm four miles south of Le Mars and named it Prestledge. A. R. T. Dent (a son of Lady Dent) and A. Langley also ran a "plantation"; while A. W. Moore bought five hundred acres of the Close brothers near Correctionville. G. Garnett and H. Rickards owned Garrickdale Farm and George E. Ward engaged especially in the breeding and importing of Shorthorn cattle near Hawarden ; while H. Hillyard and Charles Kay farmed near Ireton. A dozen miles or so southeast of Sioux City Captain Barlow of Manchester raised a large establishment which is still known as Barlow Hall. Herbert Cope owned Gypsy Hill Farm in Washington Township and Troscoed just west of Le Mars. (171) The practice of naming farms was introduced into the country by British settlers, and it was not uncommon for letters to come to the United States from England addressed to such farms without the name of the post office. (172)
So greatly did the English and Scotch colonists interest themselves in blooded stock that the Close brothers, James Fenton, Colledge and Preston, Lord Hobart, Captain Moreton, and Reginald Moreton at different times won prizes and premiums at the county fair on horses, cattle, sheep, and poultry. (173) The new settlers took pride in such matters and were constantly importing thoroughbreds from England. Thus, William B. Close obtained for the Albion stables Elsham, reputed to be the highest bred stallion in Iowa in his day. Bought by Frank C. Cobden from Edmund Tattersall, the winner of more Derbys than any other man, this animal was described as follows:
He is as highly bred an animal as can be found anywhere, and a perfect beauty. He is a bay and stands sixteen hands high, weighs eleven hundred, and has every point of equine excellence known to horsemen. He was sired by Knowsley (by Stockwell out of Gen Peel's dam) out of Violet (by Voltiguer-Garland by Langar), a pedigree which old-whips appreciate. But Elsham needs no famous ancestry to win admiration, for a mere glance at him shows every inch a horse, and all that a horse should be. (174)
It was at Sioux City that Elsham won a first prize as the best thoroughbred and another for the best get of five colts.
Coach horses also made their appearance ; but running horses naturally enough came to be the special concern of the younger members of the colony. The profits of farming were all well enough, but dear to every English heart were outdoor sports. Fond of racing by temperament and training, the physically fit, athletic, vigorous type of Britisher found the taste of cowboy life upon the edge of the free range cattle country just what he wanted for his favorite recreation was usually riding. Poultney Bigelow, the famous journalist, told of his visit to the English colony at Le Mars and pictured the life there in glowing terms:
The young men who make up this community are, for the most part, graduates of Oxford or Cam bridge. (175) On one farm I met two tall and handsome young farmers whose uncle had been a distinguished member of Parliament. The last time I had seen them was in a London drawing-room. This time they tramped me through the mud and manure of the barnyard to show me some newly bought stock. They were boarding with a Dutch farmer at three dollars per week in order to learn practical farming. Both were thoroughly contented, and looking forward to the future with pleasure.
Another young farmer whom I noticed on horseback with top-boots, flannel shirt, sombrero, and belt-knife, was pointed out to me as the grandson of the author of Paley's Theology. He was attending a cattle auction at Le Mars, Iowa.
There, too, was a son of Thomas Bayley Potter, the distinguished honorary secretary of the Cobden Club, and M. P. for Rochdale, who had come out only to take a look at the place, but who so fell in love with the life that he decided to invest. One had been an admiral in the royal navy, another had been connected with a Shanghai bank. There was a brother to Lord Ducie, not to speak of future baronets, viscounts, and honorables. These young men had all been attracted here by their. love of a free, active life, and the knowledge that they would enter a society congenial to their tastes and early associations ....
They have the very best ground for fox hunting in the world - a rolling prairie with a creek here and there. Every colonist makes it his chief care, after buying his farm, to breed a good hunter for the steeple-chases. They have regular meets for fox or "paper" hunts, as the case may be. They last year opened a racing track, and wound up the races with a grand ball. (176)
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161 The St. Paul Pioneer Press, quoted in The Lemars Sentinel, April 28, 1881.
162 Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. XLIV, p. 68; Anamosa Journal, quoted in The Iowa Liberal (Le Mars), June 1, 1881.
163 The Lemars Sentinel, February 24, July 28, October 6, 1881; Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. XLIV, p. 68.
164 The Iowa Liberal (Le Mars), May 26, 1880; The Lemars Sentinel, February 24, May 19, December 22, 1881.
165 Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, pp. 22-24. See also an article in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. LXII, p. 767.
166 The Lemars Sentinel, January 20, 27, March 10, July 14, 1881; Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. XLIV, p. 67.
167 Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. XLIV, p. 69.
168 The Lemars Sentinel, July 14, 1881; Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. LXII, p. 766.
169 The Iowa Liberal (Le Mars), December 8, 1880.
170 For brief sketches of these two men, see History of
the Counties o f Woodbury and Plymouth, Iowa (A. Warner & Co.,
1890-1891), pp. 527, 747, 784.
On the coming of Scotchmen see The Lemars Sentinel, April 14, June 9, 1881; The Iowa Liberal (Le Mars), June 23, 1880.
171 For all these facts see The Lemars Sentinel, February 24, April 7, May 12, August 25, September 15, 1881, March 2, 1882; History of the Counties of Woodbury and Plymouth, Iowa (A. Warner & Co., 1890-1891), p. 750.
172 The Iowa Liberal (Le Mars), June 8, 1881; The Lemars Sentinel, June 2, 1881, October 13, 1885.
173 The Lemars Sentinel, September 29, 1881, October 18, 1883.
174 The Lemars Sentinel, July 14, 1881, May 31, 1883.
175 Mr. Bigelow's statement was unwarranted at the time he wrote. There were two Exeter College, Oxford, men Henry H. Drake and Percy Atkinson, and F. R. Price, an Oxford blue from Queen's College. James and William Close, Con Benson, and Jack Wakefield were the only Cambridge men.
176 See Poultney Bigelow's story in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. LXII, p. 764.
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